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Japanese art and Bunjinga (Nanga): the influence of China and Korea in the Edo period

Japanese art and Bunjinga (Nanga): the influence of China and Korea in the Edo period

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The Bunjinga school of thought ran deep within the literati of Japan during the Edo period. Bunjin (literati) artists trace their artistic roots to the literati of China during the Song Dynasty (960-1267). However, the differences between the Japanese literati and Chinese literati, is notable because of the opposite side of the coin applying.  Also, the isolationist policies of Japan in the Edo period meant that bunjin artists didn’t have the complete picture of the cultural reality of the Song Dynasty.

Bunjinga is also called Nanga and on the British Museum website it states that “The Japanese Bunjinga school of literati ‘scholar-amateur’ artists flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is also known as Nanga (‘Southern painting’). The school was based on the literati movement that developed in China over a long period of time as a reaction against the formal academic painting of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126). Rather than technical proficiency, literati artists cultivated a lack of affectation in an attempt to tune in to the rhythms of nature. In Japan, this was only partially understood: many Japanese bunjin were simply trying to escape the restrictions of the academic Kanō and Tosa schools while imitating Chinese culture. At first, the only models available were woodblock-printed manuals such as the Kaishien gaden (‘Mustard Seed Garden’) and a few imported Chinese paintings. Some Chinese monks of the ōbaku Zen sect taught painting in Nagasaki. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, the Japanese bunjin were not necessarily carefree artists and scholars from wealthy, bureaucratic backgrounds, and many had to sell their work to make a living.”

The political reality of the Edo period meant that Japanese artists were forbidden to travel to China. This policy was called sakoku (locked country) and clearly this prevented the real study of the Song Dynasty.  Therefore, the free movement of people leaving or entering Japan was enforced strictly and only limited “windows” were open.

Given this, the real terminology should be kaikin (maritime prohibitions) but from the point of view of bunjingaartists, then clearly sakoku created major restrictions in their pursuit of knowledge and reality. Japan wasn’t fully isolated because cultural meeting points happened with the people of Ryuku (Okinawa) and the Ainu. Also, Nagasaki, and a few other places, enabled outside cultural interactions despite the severe limitations on “real interaction” based on the freedom of movement.

Bunjinga artists therefore resided in a world where restrictions were put in place and clearly even in the modern world certain nations are still hostile to outside influences which threaten the status quo. For example, in modern day Saudi Arabia all converts from Islam face death, just like all converts to Christianity faced death during the Edo period. Meanwhile, in North Korea this nation wants to maintain severe restrictions on the outside world based on political motives. In both Saudi Arabia and North Korea many windows are open in the field of trade. However, despite the huge differences of these two nations, you do see aspects of sakokudespite major cultural, political, religious, and other differences in these societies.

Therefore, the world of bunjinga artists in this period of history had severe restrictions to overcome. However, unlike ukiyo-e artists who focused on many aspects of Japanese culture, mythology, history, the spirit world, and so forth; for bunjinga artists their problems were different because of their admiration of Chinese culture. This meant that ukiyo-e artists could connect with the world they knew but for bunjinga artists much of their literati world was clouded by the restrictions of obtaining real knowledge of the world they wanted to portray.

Famous artists who followed the bunjinga school of thought applies to Gion Nankai, Sakaki Hyakusen, Yanagisawa Kien, Okada Beisanjin, Kameda Bosai, Hanabusa Itcho, Ike no Taiga, Watanabe Kazan, Tomioka Tessai, Yosa Buson, Uragami Gyokudo, Tani Buncho, Takahashi Sohei, Okada Hanko, Ki Baitei , Matsumura Goshun, Yokoi Kinkoku (1761-1832), Yamamoto Baiitsu, Nukina Kaioku, Takahashi Sohei, Nakabayashi Chikuto, and many others.

In an earlier article by Modern Tokyo Times it was stated that “This school of thought flourished in the late Edo period and highlights the power of traditional Chinese culture in Japan despite the ongoing isolation of this nation. The bunjinga, the literati according to their mode of thinking, all had one binding feature and this applies to their deep admiration of traditional Chinese culture. This enabled their individuality to be linked together within the ideas and art work of bunjinga concepts.”

The Philadelphia Museum of Art comments that “The mid-eighteenth century in Japan was a time of political and social stability and economic prosperity. The Tokugawa family of military rulers (shogun) was firmly ensconced in the new eastern capital of Edo as the de facto political power, while the emperor reigned as spiritual and cultural sovereign in the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto in western Japan. Regional schools were established to spread the Chinese studies that the central government espoused along with the Confucian-based political system. The study of fields such as Chinese literature, music, and medicine became specializations among the educated elite of the newly rich merchant class as well.”

Therefore, while the Edo period is famous for being isolationist it is abundantly clear that the Tokugawa ruling elites spread the power of Chinese studies. This makes sense given the fact that the political system was Confucian based.

Influence of Korea

The role of Korea in this art movement is often neglected despite cultural interaction and influence which went in both directions. On the Princeton University Press website it is stated (based on the book by Burglind Jungmann) that “It is well known that Japanese literati painting of the eighteenth century was inspired by Chinese styles that found their way to Japan through trade relations. However, because Japanese and American art historians have focused on Japanese-Chinese ties, the fact that Japan also maintained important diplomatic–and aesthetic–relations with Korea during the same period has long been neglected. This richly illustrated, cogently argued book examines the role of Korean embassies in shaping the new Japanese literati style, known as Nanga in Japan.”

“Burglind Jungmann describes the eighteenth-century Korean-Japanese diplomatic exchange and the circumstances under which Korean and Japanese painters met. Since diplomatic relations were conducted on both sides by scholars with a classical Chinese education, Korean envoys and their Japanese hosts shared a deep interest in Chinese philosophy, literature, calligraphy, and painting. Texts, such as Ike Taiga’s letter to Kim Yusöng and Gion Nankai’s poem for Yi Hyön, and accounts by Korean and Japanese diplomats, give a vivid picture of the interaction between Korean and Japanese painters and envoys. Further, the paintings done by Korean painters during their sojourns in Japan attest to the transmission of a distinctly Korean literati style, called Namjonghwa. By comparing Korean, Japanese, and Chinese paintings, the author shows how the Korean interpretation of Chinese styles influenced Japanese literati painters and helped inspire the creation of their new style.”

The book by Burglind Jungmann called Painters as Envoys: Korean Inspiration in Eighteenth-Century Japanese Nanga is very intriguing because the Korean angle is neglected too much. However, cultural interaction within the richness of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese culture, went in all directions. Therefore, irrespective of the alterations which developed because of different cultural concepts within each different society – and within regions of all societies which had different energies and thought patterns – the Korean dimension is a reality and needs to be studied and highlighted more.

Timon Screech (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) comments that “This is an important book that will be useful to scholars and students alike. In elegant prose and with excellent scholarship, Burglind Jungmann proposes that Korean amateur painting had a large impact in Japan. This point has never been so closely argued before, in any language. The author has been diligent in finding little-known works in many collections around the world to support her claims. This is the first book on the subject, but it is much more than an introductory work.”

The bunjinga movement is interesting within the context of sakoku (locked country) because it opens up many intriguing questions. Also, the Korean dimension further hints at deep cultural interactions despite policies by the Tokugawa ruling elites.

Therefore, the bunjinga art movement is an area of great richness when it comes to art, thought patterns, cultural interaction, and understanding aspects of Japanese culture during the Edo period. Famous bunjingaartists have also left a rich legacy because of the art they left behind. This article is meant to intrigue people to delve into the many amazing artists who belonged to the bunjinga school of thought and then to focus on the shared civilization of Northeast Asia, despite the unique richness of all societies involved.

 

http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/108.html?page=3

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7743.html 

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 

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Japanese art and culture: Tani Buncho and influence of China

Japanese art and culture: Tani Buncho and influence of China

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

In the history books it is stated that Japan in the Edo period was cut off from the outside world but the old ways persisted and certain daimyo maintained aspects of past trade depending on geography. Therefore, culture, ideas, philosophy, art, religion, the written language of kanji, gardens, architecture, and other notable areas which had been influenced by China, were still revered by many Japanese artists.

Tani Buncho was born in 1763 and died in 1840 and the policies of Edo infringed his art work because he was forbidden to go to China because of the policy called sakoku (locked country). Sakoku forbade the free movement of individuals to foreign countries and foreigners entering Japan.  However, while this was strictly implemented with regards to individuals the real terminology should be kaikin (maritime prohibitions) because trade continued with others in Ryuku, in Ainu areas, Nagasaki, and a couple more places.

Also, while the clampdown on Christianity was a reality and converts would be killed without haste, it is abundantly clear that Edo did not infringe on the teaching of other non-Japanese indigenous faiths and philosophies that came to Japan via China and Korea. Given this, Chinese ideas ran through the veins of Japanese society and the ruling elite adopted Edo Neo-Confucianism and greater stratification took place. Thesamurai also built many Confucian academies and while the movement called Kokugaku would emerge with greater power and influence, this applies to focusing on Japanese culture, history, the Shinto faith and ancient literature, the ruling way would remain. Given this, Confucian philosophy would still hold sway during the Edo period until the last few decades before the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Therefore, the world of Buncho was one of deep admiration of Chinese classics and high culture but residing in a nation which forbade the free movement of individuals. Not surprisingly, Buncho and other artists were constrained by this reality and different thought patterns in China and Japan would further split because contemporary ideas emanating from China were forbidden in this period. Given this reality, Buncho visited Nagasaki where trade was allowed in special areas between outsiders and Japanese traders.

Buncho, just like Kameda Bosai, Hanabusa Itcho, Ike no Taiga, Watanabe Kazan, Tomioka Tessai, and many others, belonged to the Bunjinga school of thought. This school of thought flourished in the late Edo period and highlights the power of traditional Chinese culture in Japan despite the ongoing isolation of this nation. TheBunjinga, the literati according to their mode of thinking, all had one binding feature and this applies to their deep admiration of traditional Chinese culture. This enabled their individuality to be linked together within the ideas and art work of Bunjinga concepts.

On the British Museum website it states that “The Japanese Bunjinga school of literati ‘scholar-amateur’ artists flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is also known as Nanga (‘Southern painting’). The school was based on the literati movement that developed in China over a long period of time as a reaction against the formal academic painting of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1126). Rather than technical proficiency, literati artists cultivated a lack of affectation in an attempt to tune in to the rhythms of nature. In Japan, this was only partially understood: many Japanese bunjin were simply trying to escape the restrictions of the academic Kanō and Tosa schools while imitating Chinese culture. At first, the only models available were woodblock-printed manuals such as the Kaishien gaden (‘Mustard Seed Garden’) and a few imported Chinese paintings. Some Chinese monks of the ōbaku Zen sect taught painting in Nagasaki. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, the Japanese bunjin were not necessarily carefree artists and scholars from wealthy, bureaucratic backgrounds, and many had to sell their work to make a living.”

Buncho focused heavily on his love of traditional Chinese culture but this talented individual also studied Tosa, Western-style, and ukiyo-e. Therefore, he was an individual who searched the many art-forms which were available to him, irrespective of the limitations imposed by Edo rulers.

The Saru Gallery comments about Buncho that “He first studied Kanō painting at a young age with Katō Bunrei, then the Nanga style under Watanabe Gentai, Kitayama Kangan and Kushiro Unsen. During his travels he met the patron Kimura Kenkadō, who became a life-long friend. Through him he met many artists from the Kansai area, including Uragami Gyokudō and Yamamoto Baiitsu. He studied many other styles of painting then current in Japan, including Chinese and Western style. His work is widely eclectic, and brought him many friends, fans and pupils. In the end he was mainly known as a Nanga artist, who brought the literati style style from Kyoto and Osaka to the capital.”

Buncho moved to Nagasaki for many years in order to study Chinese art and European art and in many ways he is a “microcosm” of issues that have pulled at Japan for many centuries. This applies to the power of Japanese culture, Chinese culture, and Western culture, and how best to utilize or to focus on one main area. However, for individuals like Buncho he yearned for knowledge and greater wisdom. Therefore, he focused on all the positives from each culture in order to express himself through art.

The legacy of Buncho is multiple and this applies to his books he wrote about art and theory, his art work, his thinking and how he overcame the many restrictions imposed on him and society because of the policies of Edo. Also, it is intriguing to note that despite the isolation of Japan it is clear that outside thought patterns were powerful in Japan and “windows” like Nagasaki enabled Buncho to learn more about new ideas.

http://jyuluck-do.com/profile_tani_buncho.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2012 in ASIA, Japan

 

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Ike No Taiga: Japanese artist and a glimpse into the history of Japan

Ike No Taiga: Japanese artist and a glimpse into the history of Japan

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Japanese art is very distinctive and contrasts greatly with classical European art and clearly religious differences, environmental factors, distance, limited social interaction between both poles and other important factors is behind this. Ike No Taiga exemplifies the vast difference in thinking and clearly China was the central of gravity for a major period in the history of Japan.

This article is merely highlighting Ike No Taiga and focusing on the underbelly of culture in Japan and how his life provides glimpses of the reality of Japan in the 18th century. After all, the land of the rising sun was clearly influenced by ideas emanating out of China. Therefore, while thinking was influenced before the Nara period in the 8th century it is clear that the Nara period highlights the interaction of both nations.

It is often claimed that the Edo period is based on isolation but the life of Ike No Taiga (1723-1776) challenges this oversimplification.  The Edo period witnessed the Buddhist inquisition against Christianity whereby all Christians were killed in this period in Japan but outside cultural influence still entered this country.

Therefore, while religious edicts were a reality the isolation of Japan is a different matter because thought patterns emanating from China were still potent.  Therefore, the life of Ike No Taiga is fascinating because of many factors.

Ike No Taiga was born into a relatively poor family and his father died when he was very young.  However, despite this his mother somehow managed to get her son educated by some of the finest minds in Japan in this period.

This in itself shows you that the heavy handed stratification of society was not completely rigid and Ike No Taiga was accepted because he was a man of letters and an artist who provides glimpses of Japan in this period. 

Ike No Taiga was taught classical Japanese and Chinese disciplines during his childhood and the Mampuku-ji Zen temple would remain embedded within his soul. Therefore, irrespective of Japan’s isolation or not; the classical world of China was still potent within the mindset of Japanese high culture and religious thinking from Mampuku-ji Zen temple shaped and influenced Ike No Taiga greatly.

At the tender age of 14 Ike No Taiga had become a professional artist and a calligrapher of high esteem.  However, the encounter he had with Yanagisawa Kien would impact on him greatly. 

Through Yanagisawa Kien the world of bunjin was introduced to him and this world would shape the life of Ike No Taiga.  Yanagisawa Kien was a major artistic figure and social thinker and bunjin was potent within high circles in this period of Japanese history.

Anna Beerens comments that “In 8th-century Japan a few hundred individuals, mostly living in the main towns, such as Kyoto, Osaka and Edo, are considered literati (bunjin). In studying this group as an intellectual and social phenomenon one studies an important part of the history of 18th-century Japanese culture and city life. Also, their literati activities and attitudes are an interesting example of acculturation. For whatever our literati may be, they certainly are a collection of consciously sinophile people, writing Chinese, painting in a variety of Chinese styles, drinking their tea the Chinese way, and otherwise assimilating and disseminating Chinese influences, at the same time changing this heritage in all sorts of subtle ways.”

Ike No Taiga, Kan Tenju and Ko Fuyo were deeply influenced by Yanagisawa Kien and the bunjin world appealed greatly because of the high culture that it provided. However, the social reality of Ike No Taiga meant that the avoidance of commercialism was not possible because if he did not ply his trade then he had no alternative source of income.

Another aspect of bunjin thinking was to set off on important journeys in order to understand the world and to commune with nature.  Also, the journeys would expand the cultural awareness of the individual and by connecting with nature this would then trigger greater artistic imagination. 

Bunjin concepts did enable Ike No Taiga to expand his knowledge and by travelling he learnt about Rangaku (Dutch learning) and Noro Genjo will have provided another important worldview but fused with Japanese cultural influences.

Again, the Edo period and isolationism did not prevent scholars from studying outside concepts.  Therefore, the thought patterns of high culture in both China and the Netherlands would impact on Ike No Taiga.

Throughout much of the life of Ike No Taiga he would travel and connect with nature by mountain climbing and witnessing culture during his travels.  He often was accompanied by fellow bunjin colleagues and collaboration on art projects took place.  Therefore, the philosophy of bunjin reached deep into his soul.

At all times Ike No Taiga was searching and in time he would also become influenced by Hakuin Ekaku.  Therefore, the personal style of Hakuin Ekaku would add to the vast knowledge of Ike No Taiga and he would work with Hakuin’s disciples.

The Japanese government classified some of Ike No Taiga’s work to be National Treasures and this would have pleased him greatly because the man of letters was fully transformed by bunjin thought patterns.

Ike No Taiga may have resided in so-called isolationist Japan but this did not stop him from benefitting from the high culture of China and the Netherlands.  Also, his humble background and stratification in Japan did not hinder him and aspects of the life of Ike No Taiga should be studied in order to deconstruct some myths about Japan in the Edo period.

http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Ike-No-Taiga/Ike-No-Taiga-oil-paintings.html 

http://moderntokyotimes.com (please visit)

 
 
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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Japan

 

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